India's Kidambi Srikanth was bested 21-15, 22-20 by Singapore's Loh Kean Yew in the final of the 2021 BWF World Championships. It was the first final of the division for both nations, and Singapore becomes the fifth nation to win gold in the men's singles at the Worlds.
It was, in fact, Singpaore's first medal of any kind at the Worlds, and you could see the nervousness in Loh when the match started. From 3-1 up in the first game, he went 9-3 down as Srikanth forced play with a brilliant mix of jump smashes and disguised drops. Srikanth controlled all the rallies before some nervousness of his own crept into his game and an error made it 9-4.
Loh seemed to gain confidence from that point, and while Srikanth held onto a 11-7 lead at the water break, it was all Loh. A point that emphasised that momentum had shifted his way was the one which Loh won to make it 13-13. With Srikanth controlling the rally, Loh had been scrambling all across his backcourt. Srikanth then dropped a delicious drop into the front court, which was somehow retrieved after a full-stretch dive by Koh. It wasn't the retrieval, though, that stunned Srikanth. It was how Loh bounced back to his feet immediately to smash Srikanth's regulation lift down the middle.
With momentum firmly on his side now, Loh unveiled his range of strokes, jump-smashing his way to a 17-13 lead that turned to 19-14 and soon enough 21-15. Loh's strokeplay combined with a sudden loss of confidence from Srikanth saw the first game sown up in just 16 minutes.
The second game started just as the first had, both players exchanging the first two points. Srikanth then pulled into a lead facilitated by his willingness to draw out rallies for as long as he could. It played on Loh's anxiety, while Srikanth used all of his experience to stay calm. For a while.
From a 9-6 lead, Loh built a head of steam that saw him win five straight points to lead 11-6 at the break. Loh's strategy at the time seemed to hinge on Srikanth making errors, and two basic ones were enough for him to regain momentum. But Srikanth has had a quite remarkable end to 2021 and he wasn't about to lie down. He continued to play out long rallies, his best point of the match coming when he made it 16-14 in his favour. A 49-shot rally (the longest of the match) was controlled from start to finish by Srikanth, who finished it with a sensational, disguised crosscourt drop. Srikanth then took a 18-16 lead, at which point he looked like he would force a decider, but once again basic errors in rallies he was controlling let him down.
At 18-18, came the point of the match. With Srikanth raining down a barrage of smashes, Loh somehow managed to return all of them before one didn't clear the net. Srikanth went on to save two match points, with two brave shots - a disguised drop and a terrific jump smash down the line. Then, at 20-20, Srikanth missed an open court and his bowed head indicated that would be it. Loh then placed a clear to perfection on his third match point and that was that. A remarkable run that had included the scalps of Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, another Danish star in Anders Antonsen and the Indian HS Prannoy concluded with a magical win. On his part, though, Srikanth will rue the errors that crept into his game at crucial points in the match. Loh's defensive work was top-class, but Srikanth's execution at the key stages not so much.
Here is how the game unfolded in real time (Please wait a few seconds for the blog to load. If it does not, please click here)...